The other day, I started plotting my novel Smoke and Blood, the prequel to my debut novel Blood and Water. If you’ve known me longer than a few months, you know I’ve never been a big fan of plotting. Heck, while writing Blood and Water I even wrote a post detailing why I don’t outline anymore. But that was quite some time ago, and a lot has changed since then.
The biggest change has been that I am now a fan of plotting. A few people have commented that it seems like I wrote the first draft of Reflections faster than they expected, and that’s mostly due to that fact that I had the whole thing outlined. I used to be a die-hard pantser, and this strategy made a significant difference in my writing productivity. After Blood and Water, I was so sick of struggling and slogging through drafts. I needed a change. That’s why I started plotting.
It all started when I read Libbie Hawker’s book, Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Better, Faster Writing. This book changed my writing life. In a series of anecdotes and knowledge gleaned from personal experiences, Hawker provides tips for plotting a novel without losing your mind. That book, combined with this post by Rachel Aaron, made me view my process in an entirely different light. Based on what I learned from these wise ladies, here’s how I’m plotting my books going forward:
- Take note of what you know already. Whenever I get plot bunnies for a new book, I make sure to write them down in Evernote. That way, when it comes time to start plotting, I’m not starting from scratch.
- Find your characters. Rachel Aaron recommends, at a minimum, knowing your main characters, antagonists, and power players. Don’t get bogged down in character sheets right off the bat. All you need for now is names and some identifying details that are relevant to the story.
- Figure out the end and the beginning. Try deciding them in that order. Once you’ve discovered the end, it’s a lot easier to get there from the beginning. If you know the end, all you have to do is figure out how you’re going to get there.
- Determine the setting. Where and when will your novel take place? Consider some minor worldbuilding here, but like with the characters, make sure you don’t get too wrapped up in the specifics of this part.
- Fill in the gaps. If you have the beginning and the end of your novel down, all you have left to do is fill in the gaps. of course, this is much easier said than done. Focus on moving from one plot event to another, building a compelling, believable framework. Connect the major twists, scenes, and climaxes until you get to the conclusion. If you get stuck, don’t panic. That’s totally normal!
There you have it! Whether you’re a full-fledged plotter or a pantser looking for a better way to write, consider giving some of these techniques a try. If you’d like more information, I wholeheartedly recommend reading Libbie Hawker’s book. She goes into much more detail than I have in this post.
Everyone seems to have a different idea of what the term inciting incident means. The answers vary from person to person, with no clear-cut definition to be found.
- It’s the first thing that happens in the story.
- It’s the event that introduces the conflict and gets the plot going.
- It shows up at the end of the first act.
- It happens before the story starts.
With all these different responses, no wonder writers are so confused. When it comes to understanding the inciting incident, you need to know one thing: it’s not a single event that happens in the story – it’s three different events. Here’s a brief breakdown of each of them below.
- The Hook. The opening of your story should draw readers in and keep them wanting more. It’s the first thing that happens related to the plot, and sparks interest in the audience. For example, in The Hunger Games, the novel opens with Prim and Katniss preparing for the Reaping.
- The First Plot Point. This event is what pushes your story ahead. It’s meant to shove your characters headfirst into the conflict. Their world has been forever changed for one reason or another, and now they will have to confront that change. The first plot point usually occurs around the 25% mark. It’s the “doorway of no return” at the end of the first act, not the first eventful moment in your story (unless you have a pacing problem). In The Hunger Games, the first plot point involves Haymitch and Peeta’s scheme to make Katniss more likeable – Peeta tells everyone that he has a crush on the woman who came with him.
- The Inciting Event. The inciting event can also be thought of as the first act’s turning point. Ideally, it’s placed around the 12% mark, and truly launches the main conflict. This plot point bridges the gap between the hook and the first plot point. Unlike the first plot point, it doesn’t change the characters’ world forever, but it does make them break out in a cold sweat. For Katniss in The Hunger Games, this is volunteering to take her sister’s place and being whisked away for training.
While these three points are vital to understanding the concept of the inciting incident, you should also take note of something called the key event. This event forms the other half of the inciting event – think of it as what involves your character in the inciting event. Sound confusing? Let me explain.
Continuing with The Hunger Games, let’s find the key event. Often, this will coincide with the first plot point, although it comes after the inciting event. Once Peeta declares that he and Katniss are lovers, there is no turning back. The two of them must keep up the ruse in order to win sympathy from people watching the games. According to K. M. Weiland:
The Inciting Event (remember: that’s the turning point halfway through the First Act) brings the conflict to the protagonist’s awareness. But the protagonist still won’t fully engaged with the conflict. He may make a half-hearted attempt to resolve it. Or he may try to walk away from it entirely. Until the Key Event.
For Katniss, the key event happens when she needs medicine and can only get some from the sponsors. She realizes that her only chance for survival may be to keep up appearances with Peeta, and she commits to putting on a show for everyone.
You might still be a little puzzled, but that’s all right. The inciting incident is a difficult concept to grasp. If you want to practice identifying these events, try locating them in your favorite books.
How do you think of the inciting incident? What are the important events in your works-in-progress? Feel free to share them in the comments below.
Got questions about the inciting incident? @brianawrites discusses what it means and how you can use it in your story. (Click to tweet)